FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida broke its one-day record for coronavirus deaths Tuesday and while there is a possible caveat, the state is experiencing a skyrocketing fatality rate that’s near the highest in the nation and a rapidly growing number of cases.
The 132 deaths reported Tuesday is a 10% jump over the previous record of 120 set just Thursday. However, Tuesday’s total likely includes deaths from three days — Monday plus some from Saturday and Sunday that were not reported by hospitals until Monday.
Still, Florida’s rolling seven-day average is now 81 deaths a day, the second-highest in the country behind Texas. It’s double the 39 Florida averaged two weeks ago and nearly triple the 30 a day averaged a month ago.
Doctors predicted a surge in deaths would follow Florida’s jump in daily reported cases, from about 2,000 a day a month ago to about 11,000 now. The growing caseload is partly driven by increased testing, but a larger percentage of tests are coming back positive, jumping from 6% a month ago to more than 18%.
Almost all people infected with coronavirus survive, but those who do succumb usually die two or more weeks after they are diagnosed. The most vulnerable to death and hospitalization are those over 65 or who have health issues such as diabetes, weakened immune systems or obesity.
Dr. Dena Grayson, an infectious disease researcher and former Florida Democratic congressional candidate, said Tuesday that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was “drinking the Kool-Aid” when he largely dismissed the increasing cases a month ago because they were among young adults who are not likely to die from the disease.
“We have seen this everywhere in the world. First, the younger folks get infected. Why? They are out and about,” she said. “Those people infect other people and eventually our vulnerable folks…become infected.”
DeSantis acknowledged that trend Tuesday during a meeting with Miami-Dade County mayors, saying the county’s soaring hospitalization rate is likely caused by multiple generations of a family living together or in close proximity, making meetings between younger and older people more likely.
Still, he refuses to issue a statewide order mandating masks be worn in public. He said policies in hard-hit South Florida might not make sense in the Panhandle, where the infection rate is lower.
“We have five states in one,” said DeSantis, who for the first time wore a mask while speaking in public. He usually removes his mask at the lectern.
Many of the mayors DeSantis met said there needs to be more consistent messaging on preventing the virus’s spread. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a Democrat, likened it to the unified, urgent messages Florida officials give before a hurricane. He said officials need to create a greater sense of urgency about the virus.
“I’m always amazed when all the political leaders stand up and tell people to do things. They tell them to leave their homes” before a hurricane, he said. “It creates huge dysfunction, but everybody seems to follow our unified lead … It’s been incredibly troubling to me that even in my community, the amount of people who think they don’t need to do something.”
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez was not invited but showed up anyway and was told he could not participate. Hialeah is Miami-Dade’s second-largest city, with a population of more than 233,000 people, and a high rate of residents testing positive. Hernandez is a Republican, but has publicly criticized DeSantis for his pandemic response.
DeSantis said he was not responsible for the exclusion and would be happy to meet with Hernandez.
Florida’s Tuesday death toll is nowhere near the national record. When COVID-19 was ravaging New York three months ago, it recorded 799 deaths on April 9 and had a top seven-day average of 763 deaths April 14. New York now has one of the nation’s lowest death rates per capita, recording 10 a day over the last week.
Overall, Florida has recorded nearly 292,000 cases since March 1 and 4,513 deaths. Since the outbreak began, an average of 33 Floridians have died per day from COVID-19, which makes it one of the state’s biggest killers. It has taken a similar toll as strokes, lung disease and accidents, though still ranks well below heart disease and cancer.
But coronavirus is easily the state’s deadliest infectious disease, killing three times more Floridians a day than flu/pneumonia, AIDS and viral hepatitis combined.
Currently, Florida hospitals are treating 8,253 COVID-19 patients, according to the state health department, and that is causing strain at some facilities.
Dr. David De La Zerda, ICU medical director and pulmonologist at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, said his and other intensive care units in Miami-Dade are short-staffed.
“We are seeing right now double the number of what we saw at the peak of the last wave,” De La Zerda said. “If we continue at the same pace, we are going to be out of beds soon.”
Farrington reported from Tallahassee and Gomez Licon reported from Miami. Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.
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